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Opinion & Reviews

OPINION: AMLO's recall and other moves from a Latin American autocrat's playbook

With 91% of the nearly 17 million votes counted, only 7.5% of Mexicans voted against the measure. However, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute – the independent body which oversees the electoral process – previously stated that 40% of the electoral roll (37 million) had to vote in order for the referendum to be considered valid.

AMLO reaparece ante la prensa tras recuperarse de la COVID-19
"Ya salimos del contagio, nos fue bien", afirmó en conferencia de prensa | Tomada de Twitter @lopezobrador_

April 12, 2022 6:08pm

Updated: April 19, 2022 1:50pm

Mexican voters backed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s bid to stay in office in an April 10 recall referendum called by the leader himself in a move which many have warned is a political tactic previously used by the authoritarian regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia.

With 91% of the nearly 17 million votes counted, only 7.5% of Mexicans voted against the measure.

However, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute – the independent body which oversees the electoral process – previously stated that 40% of the electoral roll (37 million) had to vote in order for the referendum to be considered valid. With only 17% of voters having gone to the poll, critics and opposition leaders now say the results should be dismissed.

Why did AMLO promote a recall against himself?

The objective of this process was never the revocation of AMLO, but rather his ratification. Because voter turnout was so low, however, it will now be up to the Electoral Tribunal to decide the vote’s final result.

Since AMLO first announced the recall referendum, his goal was to keep the MORENA Party on the ballot. The consultation, therefore, had several key objectives:

  • To demonstrate popular support for AMLO, in order to legitimize the probable extension of his mandate (a model used by the dictatorships in Venezuela and Bolivia)
  • To test and movilize his electoral base through the use of state power and government institutions
  • To weaken the National Electoral Institute (INE) through the passing of a law that would place the institute under the direct control of AMLO and his cronies.

With these objectives in mind, it becomes clear that the process, since its inception, has been plagued with irregularities, illegalities and cheating. Although AMLO’s government set processes in place in order to block opposition voices from dissenting, those processes went widely ignored by his administration.

Even the 3 million signatures required in order to call the vote were obtained in an irregular manner and were allegedly financed by the MORENA Party, along with state and local government funds and political networks.

In fact, AMLO's pressure to obtain signatures from the State was so great that his team even resorted to adding dead voters and family pets to the voter rolls, the INE warned. The president’s team also was misleading in the information campaign leading up to the vote and critics have said that public funds were used to trick the public.  

Although the INE is an independent government institution, it became the legal executor of the president’s electoral plan leading up to the election. Paradoxically, however, both AMLO and the Chamber of Deputies recently cut the INE’s budget, effectively making voting impossible due to budget and staff shortages.

But even after the budget cuts, the INE was able to install more than 67,000 voting booths and promote the vote on state media.

Still, the irregularities and controversies described throughout the process were deeply rooted and critics have warned that even the Supreme Court is now under AMLO’s political control.

For this reason, it is important to note that there were no opposition voices present throughout the process to warn voters against voting for AMLO – a failure in the public sphere that made the victory feel like even more of an electoral sham.

AMLO’s team, however, poured ludicrous amounts of taxpayer money into the campaign, as is made evident in the large numbers of ads, posters and rallies that were held in cities and towns across Mexico. Public officials from all levels, too, participated in propaganda events and appeared on state and public media to promote the vote for AMLO – a move which directly violates Mexico’s constitution.

On the same day of the consultation, for example, the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP) took to Twitter to urge Mexicans to vote in favor of AMLO – directly violating Mexican law by acting partially in official elections.

Soon after the tweet was posted, INE was forced to intervene and ordered SHCP to remove the post.

Therefore, from the results of this vote, we can conclude:

  • Although millions of Mexicans voted in the recall referendum, the vote was marked by voter harassment and an illegal propaganda push and ultimately showed that support for AMLO has steadily decreased since he was elected in 2018. Unfortunately, however, there are no opposition voices in place to capitalize on his political fall.
  • Only about 10% of registered voters turned out to vote. Even though the president’s administration promised increased welfare benefits and went as far as offering payment to potential voters, a majority of voters stayed home, thus making the voluntary voter turnout rate difficult to assess.
  • The INE did a spectacular job, citizens who presided over the polls showed an exemplary civic attitude and the general population did not fall for AMLO’s electoral tricks. Although AMLO has claimed he won 90% of the vote, he still has publicly blamed the INE for “boycotting the process.”

Although AMLO’s electoral coup has been halted for the moment, Mexicans must not let down their guard as the results could lead to a redoubling of measures aimed at gaining total control of Mexican institutions – much like South America’s leftist regimes attempted to do in recent years.